The No-BS guide to get 12% of accounts to reply to your cold email

I always considered cold email as a subpar channel. One that creates pipeline because you trick people to answer you.

I often heard stories about companies that would fuel their entire growth with outbound. Which made me think twice about my preconceived ideas.

Working at MadKudu, we were trying to find a channel that would be able to build pipeline.

In about 6 weeks, we were able to get 12% of our target accounts to book a meeting with us.

Today, I want to share how we got to this result so that you can start with outbound.

The Early Results: #NoReplies

I started by going heads down into it and it was a mistake. I’d find accounts that were interesting (without specific criterions) and email relevant people.

I sent very general emails that weren’t personalized and that weren’t bringing much value.

Here is an example of what that looked like:

This didn’t get us anywhere. I sent 80 emails and I didn’t get any replies. Looking back at this email, I now realize that it’s pretty terrible.

Even though it promised of offering something of value, I was actually asking for time (without providing anything straight away).

When I wrote this email, I said to myself “this is good”. Try to look at these emails from the other’s perspective and look at them honestly.

Given the size of our market, I knew that we needed a conversion rate greater than 1.5%. I needed to change my approach.

Thinking Strategically

We’re a pretty lean company. Francis (our co-founder) has been sourcing his meetings himself.

He usually meets people at events or gets referrals from our customers. Once people are in a call, we have a very predictable sales process.

That works wonder. The next challenge is « Can we build a channel that helps us to get more meetings? ».

We sell a solution with a fairly high ACV (~$50k / year). Given the ACV and our current stage, getting a couple more clients per month is our first goal.

From a strategic point of view, that means that we decided to go for a low volume with high personalization.

We decided to select 50 accounts, research them and send personalized emails.

I didn’t want to use calling or other channels (like direct mail) because the idea was to really validate that we could make it work with email only.

Strategy will differ based on your business (ACV, LTV…), so you may have to go to a different route.

It won’t make sense to hyper-personalize your email if you sell a solution for $10 / month. Taking the time to write these emails will cost you more than the actual contract value.

Know who you’re hunting and adapt your strategy to your own business.

Selecting Accounts

Since I worked with all of our clients personally, this didn’t require much research. I already had a good idea of who would be a good fit. If you’re just getting started, you probably want to spend time figuring this out.

I selected about 50 target accounts that looked good. Accounts like Prezi, Tray.io, Workato.

These accounts had the following characteristics:

  • Using our own scoring algorithm: Scored Very Good or Good
  • B2B SaaS
  • Employee count
    • Between 100 and 300 employees
    • I wanted to find companies that were “big enough” but not too big (which would require a more intensive approach)
  • They have a Marketing team with 3-4 people
    • No Marketing team is a no-go
    • I looked at the ratio “Marketing VS SDRs VS Business Development”. We want companies with a decent Marketing team (if they only have SDRs or BDRs, it’s not an ideal fit)
    • We want Marketing teams that are heavily reliant on “inbound traffic”. Think about companies who have a blog and tons of traffic.

We validated this list internally to make sure that everyone was a good fit and that we weren’t in touch with them already.

To craft relevant messages and offer personalized recommendations, I researched all these accounts: I actually requested or demo and signed up for a free trial.

I used the Chatter feature in Salesforce to record this research.

Doing this research enabled me to find relevant ideas of what we could be doing for them.

You need to find something relevant to your own product but here is what I found for most accounts:

  • They have very long forms asking for many fields (like job title or company name). We can use their email addresses and enrich it to pre-populate other fields.
  • They have SDRs reaching out to Demo Requests. We can integrate with their landing page so that qualified leads will have the ability to schedule a meeting with the rep while they book a demo.
  • They have a Free Trial, we can help them to prioritize their trials to make sure they have a productive outreach.

Doing this research enabled me to know enough about these accounts to write something that was truly personalized.

Finding Contacts

I looked for people with the following titles:

  • Marketing Ops
  • Demand Generation
  • CMO

We had good success emailing CMOs and VPs directly. Initially I was a little bit weird about emailing CMOs, you shouldn’t. Email CMOs!

I always found more than one contact. I’d then rank these contacts in order of “who’s the most likely to feel the pain” and then started sending emails.

I found their email addresses using Hunter.io’s Email Finder. I also used Email Verifier to make sure the email address could receive emails.

I also looked at what Google had for them. You can usually find their LinkedIn or their Twitter account. Which can give you crucial information to really personalize to the person.

Messaging

I did my best to provide value to them. I wanted them to feel like “I’m the only one to receive this email and I want to engage”.

I followed this sequence:

1. Personalized email with recommendations about their funnel; I often linked to content pieces that were relevant

2. Case Study that would speak about a company that fit their business model (you have a Free Trial, you probably know about Drift?)

3. Lighter touch about a webinar, an event, a piece of content…

4. Mentioning customers / competitors (logos that are speaking to them)

Here is an example of a personalized email:

As you can see, this email is pretty long. This is what worked for us. You’ll want to try different things here to see what sticks.

Tooling / Operationalization

I didn’t operationalize anything. I used Gmail to send the emails. I used HubSpot to follow who opened / clicked on the emails. I used Mixmax when I wanted to send larger sequences (like following up after a webinar).

I used Salesforce and the activity tracking feature to track what emails were being sent and when.

I customized everything because I really wanted to “do the work” to prove that it could work first.

Don’t get caught up on the tools. Crack the code first (personas, messaging), you’ll think about scaling that up (and purchasing tools) later on.

Salesforce Setup

Nothing special here so I won’t spend too much time talking about it. I used the “Account” object on Salesforce and I created a “Prospect Status” field that would allow me to see how they were progressing through the funnel.

I also used the “Last Activity” field from Salesforce to allow me to know when was the last time that we engaged a specific account.

If you’re not on Salesforce, that not a big deal. You can reproduce a similar setup in your own CRM.

Views

I created views on the Account object to help with all of this. The first one being the “Engaged Accounts” list where you can basically see “When was the last time that I touched an account?”

The other view is the “Accounts to Engage” these are basically qualified accounts that are waiting for research or contacts. These should be touched next.

Dashboard

I also created the “Demand Generation” Dashboard to help measuring the activities to make sure that we were going in the right direction.

Using LinkedIn

I sent connection requests to everyone I connected with. Not many people actually replied (even with a custom note).

When accounts were irresponsive, I’d try sharing a piece of content about them. Here is an example of what it looks like:

These articles got decent views (~3.3k views) and they also got me in touch with some people. However, it didn’t lead to any meetings.

On another hand, it doesn’t hurt. You’re connecting with people on LinkedIn, you’re speaking about their problems and you speak about brands that they love. I would keep on doing that even if there wasn’t a clear ROI.

What are the results?

From a philosophical standpoint: I selected a manageable amount of accounts and I did everything that I could in order to reach out to them. I wasn’t trying to scale anything, I was really trying to gain their mindshare.

This was a good thing because it enabled me to really focus on “making it work”, more than thinking about “how can I scale this”.

I was able to generate 6 SQLs out of the 50 Target Accounts that we wanted to reach. Which includes companies like: HubSpot, Prezi, Heap and a couple others.

That’s a conversion rate of 12%. Which is pretty neat given the fact that it’s our first campaign.

We also have a great brand (Kudos to Liam) and I’m convinced that this had a positive effect on getting people to answer.

It’s a small number of accounts so we may not be able to reproduce the same results on hundreds of accounts but it’s encouraging.

What’s next?

We know that outbound works for us. That’s great. I’m not sure we’d be able to really double our conversion rate (to 24%), however I think that we can run this campaign much more efficiently.

We could probably automate the entire campaign by using services like Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Here are some ideas that could be helpful to you too:

Use a tool like Outreach.io but keep on personalizing. Outreach.io allows you to create “Tasks” so that you can personalize the messages. Do that. Keep on sending every message one by one and customizing the copy.

Start calling. I feel like we could have really increased our results if we called these people.

Experiment with direct mail. However, don’t send them a T-Shirt with your logo. Make it about them instead. Send them a book if they like to read, or a ticket to the AT&T Park if they love the giants. There is a myriad of information on people’s Twitter / Facebook Accounts. (Sendoso could help here)

Experiment with personalized copy + video. Use something like Vidyard to send them personalized videos.

Experiment with other marketing materials (events, content…). Pushing people to a demo is one way to get them to engage. Providing relevant content can be another.

Conclusion

Now, you know everything that helped us to get to convert 12% of our targeted accounts to an actual meeting.

This campaign ran on a total of 6 weeks. It wasn’t hard to do, it just took time and dedication.

Sending these emails manually wasn’t fun and it wasn’t interesting. But it was the way to go. You should definitely start this way.

Don’t think about “automating” or even about “profitability”. Focus on making it work, then you’ll find a way to automate and scale.

The thing with outbound, it’s not an “if” question. All B2B SaaS companies should be able to make it work.

It’s really a question of finding the right messaging / persona. Then it’s a question of unit economics (“can we profitably acquire clients through outbound”).

I’d definitely encourage you to start experimenting with this. Don’t get hold off by “tools” or to find “the perfect sequence”, just start and iterate based on your results.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Have you tried running outbound in the past? What were your results? Were you able to scale it nicely?

Pierre Lechelle

I help B2B SaaS companies to build & manage high-performance Marketing teams so that you can build a sustainable business.

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